As I walked home from school I got caught up in the adventures of Robin Hood. I had seen every thing. My first exposure was on the big screen. Errol Flynn carrying a stag into the big room ended with his tossing the carcass on the dining table in front of Prince John. Technicolor Lincoln green was my favorite color. Then came Richard Todd on the televison drawing the bow and splitting the arrow on Disneyland. In later years Robin came to life again in a series starring Richard Greene. It came on Monday nights. He would draw that string and let the arrow fly straight and true to its target far away.
"Rob from the rich, give to the poor!" my voice rose, the words tumbling out with less than perfect pitch. I shook off my attachment to Robin as I walked up to the little cinderblock house we called home. It was painted pink. The landlord had a strange sense of humor. In the window was the outline of the tree we'd decorated. Slipping my bookbag off my shoulders I ran to the front door. Princess, my collie, stood on the porch wagging her tail as I approached. Inside the door I looked to the right to see that the fuzzy white drape cloth was still bare of presents. When? I thought. When will there be presents under the tree?
I mumbled those words I wasn't supposed to use as I dropped my bag in the chair at the kitchen table. First thing I had to do was my homework. It had been the rule since the start of school. Get the homework done, then go out and play. There wasn't much since Christmas was fast approaching. It was done in minutes. I wasn't much for particulars because our Christmas holiday was soon to be here. I closed up my books, snapped my papers in the three ring binder and shoved it all back into my bookbag which I dropped on my bed. That done I was out the door. Through the weeds bordering the yard and under the broken wire I tumbled into my neighbor's yard. He wanted to play cowboys and indians. I ran around shouting bang bang for a while but it wasn't what I wanted to play. I slipped into Lincoln Green in my mind. Pulling my imaginary pointed cap with a long curving feather at the side I made my excuses and slipped back through the fence.
In my room in the closet was the bow I had gotten a while back. I had about 5 arrows and planned on buying two more this weekend with my allowance. They were outrageously priced at twenty-five cents each. I grabbed my arrows and bow. The door slammed on my way out back. Princess barked as I bent the bow bringing the string to its notch. A lovely bend of wood. A lovely twang of taut string. My target was an old box with a crayon circle within a circle within a circle. I stood a few feet back, drew the newly nocked arrow up to my cheek. Twang! Thunk! My release was answered with a solid hit close to the center. I smiled knowing The Sheriff of Nottingham had much to worry about.
All five of my arrows found their spot on the box in what I would later know was a good grouping. As I pulled them free I thought once again about my biggest hope for Christmas. Carrying arrows by hand was simply poor form. Everybody could see that Robin had a quiver slung over his shoulder with a leather strap attached at both ends hugging it close to his back. After an arrow flew straight and true he simply reached behind him to pull another to be nocked, drawn and released with speed and accuracy. If I had a leather quiver I could be firing off arrows at machine gun speed, I thought. None of this dropping them at my feet to be retrieved by bending over. Why the Sheriff's quick action would make me a pincushion before the second arrow was laying across my bow. I needed a quiver. My parents knew. Believe me they knew.
While I was out back punching holes in my box target, my mother had come home. She opened the back door, "Finished your homework?" Those were usually the first words I heard.
"Yes'm long time ago."
"OK. Your dad will be home soon. you might want to come in and washup. Isn't there something on TV you can watch til he gets home?"
"I'm going to keep shootin' arrows."
"Alright then. We'll be eating as soon as he gets home."
Not much later I heard Dad in the kitchen. I ran inside with a door slam.
"Horses eat hay," he said. He was seated at the table reading the newpaper. In the afternoon I thought my dad was a newspaper above a set of legs sitting at the kitchen table. His voice drifted over the top of that paper if he spoke at all. I took my bow and arrows back to my room then washed my hands in the bathroom. The house was filling with the aroma of leftovers. I could tell the day of the week by what we ate. It was a life routine. Roast beef on Sunday, leftover roast beef slices on Monday, Shepherd's pie on Tuesday, etc. Roast beef was THE Sunday meal. It was normally cooked to the consistency of shoe leather. My mother always felt meat should be cooked thoroughly.
Supper went quickly.
"May I be excused?" I would ask. It was a requirement to leave the table unless of course one did not eat his vegetables. In that case the answer was, "Not until you have cleaned your plate. There are starving children in China who would love to eat that." Let's mail it to them, I would think, but never utter out loud.
This night I had eaten everything and was given the OK. I ran into the living room and turned on the TV.
"Heck, news," The bane of childhood. If news was on the parents owned the box. Off to my room I went.
"Don't you want to help put the presents under the tree?" asked my mother.
"Yes. Help me get them out of the closet here." The closets were off limits at this time of the year. I never opened them. I never went into their room, but now I was asked in to be given packages. We carried them to the tree and placed them in a semi-cirle underneath. I found mine. It was time to shake and guess. I looked at Dad. He smiled and nodded giving me permission. I picked up a tubular package wrapped in light green paper with a bow made of ribbon at the top. My grin grew from ear to ear.
"This is it!" I yelled. "You got me my quiver! That's all I wanted! A quiver! I already know. Can I open it now?!" I was ready to rip it apart and plunked my five arrows into it.
"It isn't Christmas yet," said Dad. "We'll open one on Christmas eve. If you want, that can be it for you."
"But, I know what it is. I need it to carry my arrows. Please, can't I open it?"
"On Christmas eve.'
Mom looked at Dad. I could tell she would let me. Her face said, he knows. Can't he?
Dad shook his head, knowing her thoughts. His face was slowly filling with a grin. My mother knew what that meant.
Every day I would pick up my package. I'd shake it, mash it and slip it over my shoulder to get the feel of it. Each day I'd stare at it longingly. Each day Dad would watch me and smile. The last day of school came and I ran home to look at my package.
When supper was over and the news had signed off Dad said, "Since we will be driving to your grandmother's Christmas eve I've decided we should open our one package tonight instead of tomorrow."
I bolted out of my chair with a hoop and hollar.
"Calm down, son. Reach over there for your mother's gift," he said pointing at a small one behind the tree. "There you go, dear," he said looking at Mom. There was real affection in his eyes as he watched her strip away the paper.
"Oh, nice. I love it."
I didn't care what it was. I had my package in my hand. "Me now?" I asked.
"No, let's let your Dad open his. That one right over there under the bubbling light. Yeah, that's it."
Oh Lord, I thought. He'll take forever to open that thing. I was right. Slowly, ever so slowly, he would pull the scotch tape away from the paper so as not to rip any part. That done he would unfold the creases with such care that not a wrinkle would show. Then he would hand the almost perfect square of paper to my mother saying, "Save that. We can use it again." And we normally did reuse the wrapping paper in our house. We were all very careful.
He finally opened the box. He would remove the contents say, "Very nice," and put it back into the box. This time he took a little longer replacing the item, closing the box and dropping it beside his chair. That done he looked at me, grinned ever so slightly and said, "Alright. Your turn son."
True to form I had to carefully remove the tape and unfold it so it could be reused. I was trembling with eagerness to get into it. The imposed restraint was nerve wracking for me. There all the tape was removed. With a big grin on my face I folded back the paper to reveal... rolled up paper. It was buthcer's paper rolled to the exact size, shape and squishiness of a leather quiver. I stared in disbelief. I looked from my wad of butcher's paper to my Dad who was stifling a chuckle. My mother was looking at me with sad eyes knowing the grief I felt for my non existent quiver. I turned back to my Dad who had a wide grin on his face.
"Where's my quiver?" I asked on the verge of tears.
"That'll teach you. Never believe your senses. Everything told you you had a quiver, but, as you see, it's paper. You were just so positive I couldn't help but trick you," he said as he leaned over reaching behind his chair.
My tears were becoming large enough to slide down my cheek.
"No need to cry, son. We were just having a laugh. Here's you quiver. We love you, son."
Tears forgotten I grabbed my quiver, kissed my folks, then ran to get my arrows. Into the quiver they went. I started to put it over my shoulder when I noticed...there was no strap, only a loop at the top.
"Hey," I said. "It doesn't go over my shoulder like Robin's does."
"Ah, yes. You grabbed it and ran so fast I didn't have time to finish," said Dad. "Let me show you." He had a belt in hand which he attached. This homemade strap he slipped over my head so that it sat, slanting to the right, on my shoulder hugging my back. I reached for an arrow and whipped it over my shoulder ready to rest on my bow which was still in the closet.
"That's enough excitement for one evening. Milton Berle's coming on. Let's have a watch, shall we?"
With that I put my prized gift in my room and got into my chair in front of the box. I looked at my parents knowing that they always loved me. The "surprise" gift at my expense that Christmas became a by word for later Christmases. We all tried to fool one another each year but none ever topped the reaction Dad got when I unwrapped mine. Our gifts were referred to as a "Quiver" since they were always expected to be a surprise.
"Mind you don't have a quiver there," we'd say as we watched the guessing game being played.